Berry, circa 1972
|Born||Kenneth Ronald Berry
November 3, 1933
|Occupation||Actor, dancer, singer|
|Spouse(s)||Jackie Joseph (1960-76)|
Ken Berry (born November 3, 1933) is an American sitcom actor, dancer and singer. Berry has had success in multiple television shows, one being with his friend and mentor, Andy Griffith. Berry starred in the successful comedies F Troop, The Andy Griffith Show spin-off Mayberry R.F.D., and The Carol Burnett Show spin-off Mama's Family. He also appeared on Broadway in The Billy Barnes Revue, has headlined as George M. Cohan in the musical George M! and provided comic relief for the medical drama Dr. Kildare, with Richard Chamberlain in the 1960s.
- 1 Early life and career
- 2 Film career
- 3 Las Vegas
- 4 The Billy Barnes Review
- 5 Television career
- 6 Commercials
- 7 Record albums
- 8 Personal life
- 9 Credits
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Early life and career
Berry was born in Moline in Rock Island County in northwestern Illinois, one of two children of the accountant, Darrell Berry, and his wife, Bernice. His older sister, Dona Rae, rounded out the family. Berry is of Swedish-English descent.
Berry realized he wanted to be a dancer and singer at the age of twelve, as he watched a children's dance performance during a school assembly. He dreamed of starring in movie musicals and would go to the movie theater to see Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in some of his favorite of their films including Easter Parade, Royal Wedding, On the Town, and Summer Stock.
After seeing a school performance, Berry immediately started tap dance class and, at the age of fifteen, won a local talent competition sponsored by radio and television big band leader Horace Heidt. Heidt asked Berry to join his traveling performance ensemble, "The Horace Heidt Youth Opportunity Program", which was a popular touring group. Berry's parents drove him to Los Angeles to live with the rest of the troupe at the Horace Height ranch in the San Fernando Valley. He toured the U.S. and parts of Europe for 15 months with the program, dancing and singing for the public and at post-World War II United States Air Force bases overseas. Berry made lasting relationships with several of his co-cast members and Horace's son, Horace Heidt Jr., who later launched a big band and radio career.
A few months after high school graduation Berry's family drove him back to Los Angeles so that he could pursue acting. But before doing so, at the age of twenty, Berry volunteered for induction into the United States Army, and he was assigned to Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
His first year in the Army was spent in the Artillery division, and one day, after coming back from maneuvers, his sergeant announced a talent contest on base. The winner would go to New York City to appear on Arlene Francis' Soldier Parade. Berry, who always carried his tap shoes with him, went to the only place that had a floor he would not ruin by dancing on it: the latrine. He worked out a routine and a few hours later won the contest. He headed to New York for a week and his television debut.
Berry's second and final year was as a part of the Special Services Corps, under the command of Sergeant Leonard Nimoy. As a part of Special Services, he toured the country's Army bases and officers' clubs entertaining the troops, as well as visiting colleges for recruiting purposes. Soon another talent competition was held, this time it was the All Army Talent Competition, to find service personnel to appear on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town. Berry placed third in the "Specialty Act" category with the song "There'll Be Some Changes Made" and was on his way back to New York City and television.
The Sullivan appearance was to take place shortly before Berry would muster out of the Army, and although he thought it presumptuous to write the Hollywood studios asking them to watch his performance on Toast of the Town, Nimoy did not, and sent telegrams to several studios and talent agents asking them to watch Berry on the show. The performance led to an offer from Twentieth Century Fox and a screen test at Universal Studios prior to his arrival back in Hollywood. He signed with an agent as soon as he arrived in town.
Berry accepted Universal's offer and began as a contract player. Soon he was being groomed to take over for Donald O'Connor in the Francis the Talking Mule movie series; however, Mickey Rooney became available and got the part. While at Universal, Berry took full advantage of the studio's talent development program and later, under the GI Bill of Rights, he took jazz dance, ballet, vocal, and additional acting classes.
Unfortunately, the movie musicals Berry dreamed of being in had already seen their heyday by the time he reached Hollywood. Little did he know that acting, which he once thought of as "something I would do between song and dance routines", would become the basis of his career.
Berry went on to star in the 1969 musical comedy Hello Down There – reissued as Sub a Dub Dub – as Mel Cheever, the nemesis to Tony Randall and Janet Leigh, and with Denver Pyle in 1976's Guardian of the Wilderness, the story of Galen Clark, the man who created Yosemite National Park. Berry also earned broader success as a Disney star in the films Herbie Rides Again in 1974, with Helen Hayes and Stefanie Powers, and The Cat From Outer Space in 1978, with Sandy Duncan and McLean Stevenson.
In 1956, after being released from Universal, Berry returned to Las Vegas where he opened for and joined Abbott & Costello in their stage act, doing sketches and song and dance routines at the Sahara Hotel and Casino. While working with Abbott & Costello, he met Dee Arlen, an actress whom he credits with getting him his first big break from which almost all of his other opportunities would come. This was Berry's first performance on the Las Vegas strip.
Then, in 1957, Berry was asked by Ken Murray, a well-known vaudeville performer, to join his stage variety show, "The Ken Murray Blackouts". The Blackouts played to standing-room-only audiences, and Berry was asked to choreograph and perform the opening number for the show when it played the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Berry eventually returned to Las Vegas again in the 1970s at the invitation of Andy Griffith. Griffith, along with Berry and Jerry Van Dyke, played Caesars Palace, where Berry performed song and dance numbers sandwiched by Andy and Jerry's stand-up routines.
The Billy Barnes Review
Actress Dee Arlen referred Berry for a role in the show In League with Ivy at the Cabaret Concert Theatre, a nightclub in Los Angeles. This show was where he met famed composer–impresario Billy Barnes who was the play's composer. Barnes would bring Berry into The Billy Barnes Review ensemble, his next break, and he would perform in many of Barnes' shows in the coming years.
While performing with Barnes, Berry worked with other performers including Berry's future wife, Jackie Joseph, as well as Joyce Jameson, Bert Convy, Patti Regan, Ann Morgan Guilbert, Lennie Weinrib, and sketch writer/director Bob Rodgers. Several cast albums were made.
In November 1959, the original cast of the Broadway show was replaced two weeks after a legal dispute with the producers over a canceled performance. The cast had missed their flight from Chicago after a promotional appearance on Playboy's Penthouse and refunds had to be made to the ticket holders. He performed in several stage shows in Los Angeles; the press dubbed him "another Fred Astaire" and "the next Gene Kelly". His talent was also compared to that of Flamenco Dancer José Greco, legend Donald O'Connor, Ray Bolger, and Jack Donohue.Hobson, Dick. "The Original Dull Guy". TV Guide.
From 1946 to 1958, Arthur Godfrey had an evening television show called Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. The show was a talent contest, and the winner would get a week's work on Godfrey's morning television program, which was simulcast on radio. One week in 1957, Berry won, performed his week on the show, and was then asked back for six more weeks. He traveled with Godfrey and performed on remote broadcasts in an Omaha stock yard, in Seattle at a lumber camp, at the Boeing aircraft plant, and at the San Diego Zoo. Berry was responsible for coming up with a new routine for every show, which were aired daily.
The Billy Barnes Review was popular with Hollywood, and one evening Carol Burnett was in Los Angeles and saw Berry in the show. She was appearing on The Garry Moore Show in New York and convinced the producers to sign Berry as a guest star. Burnett became a key ally for Berry, using him on her own special, which eventually became CBS's The Carol Burnett Show. Ken was one of Burnett's most frequent guest stars along with Jim Nabors and Steve Lawrence.
A notable dramatic performance by Berry was 1982's Eunice special, which was based on The Carol Burnett Show sketch, The Family. The Family was somewhat of a pilot for Mama's Family. Berry played Phillip, Eunice's brother, in the special; however he went on to play Vinton, a different brother on Mama's Family.
His collaborations with Carol Burnett continued, and they appeared together in the 1972 color remake of Burnett's Broadway hit, Once Upon A Mattress for CBS; and in the 1993 Long Beach theatrical production of From the Top.
Berry's tenure with The Billy Barnes Review also led to another important connection in his career when he was spotted by Lucille Ball. Ball quickly asked him to join her new talent development program she was starting at Desilu, similar to the "talent pools" – known as talent "programs" – that the other studios had. He was under contract with Desilu for six months, performing for both Ball and Barnes at the same time. The reviews for The Billy Barnes Review were largely positive, and additional investors contributed the extra money needed to move the show from the York Playhouse to Broadway, which meant he had to take leave from Desilu.
After returning from New York in 1960, Berry was brought back to Desilu to play Woody, a bell hop, in ten episodes of CBS's The Ann Sothern Show which was set in a swanky New York hotel called the Bartley House. The character Woody served as a "Greek chorus of one" on the series.
Later, in 1968, Ball asked Berry to guest star on The Lucy Show, where he played a bank client needing a loan to start a dance studio. Ken performed a tribute to the classic Fred Astaire number "One for My Baby" and a duet with Ball for a rendition of "Lucy's Back in Town".
Additional television roles
After numerous smaller roles, Berry was eventually cast as one of three comic relief characters on Dr. Kildare, from 1961 to 1966. A regular on the series, Berry played Dr. Kapish.
F-Troop and Mayberry R.F.D.
Berry continued doing guest roles and thought that he would at least be able to make a career as a day player, but while doing a small part on the short-lived George Burns-Connie Stevens sitcom Wendy & Me, both Burns and Stevens recommended him for the pilot of F-Troop for ABC, a western spoof where he played the accident-prone but lovable Captain Parmenter.
His first weekly role starring in a sitcom, Berry "danced around the house for weeks". Berry's co-stars were Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch, both well-known performers. Berry called his time on F-Troop "two years of recess" as the entire cast spent time between takes trying to make each other laugh. His grace and agility allowed him to perform choreographed pratfalls over hitching posts, sabers, and trash cans as the accident-prone Captain Parmenter.
In 1967, during the second year of F-Troop, Dick Linke – who was Berry's manager, and also managed Andy Griffith and Jim Nabors – pitched an F-Troop stage show to Bill Harrah, founder of Harrah's Entertainment, which included a casino and hotel in Reno, Nevada. Harrah went for it and Berry, Larry Storch, Forrest Tucker, and James Hampton put together a show, hiring writers and a choreographer to assist. It was while performing the Reno show that they received word that F-Troop had been canceled due to a financial dispute between the production company and the studio.
The next year Berry was cast in a guest starring role on The Andy Griffith Show as Sam Jones, a widowed farmer. The role was his introduction to Mayberry and he would take over the lead role once Griffith left the show. In 1968 Ken led the cast of the newly titled Mayberry R.F.D.. Since many of the actors who played the regular characters stayed with the show when Griffith left, the continuity kept the ratings high. Series writers used his "trouper" talents in stories around church revues and talent contests. On the 1970 Mayberry R.F.D. episode "The Charity", he and co-star Paul Hartman did a soft shoe dance together. Berry would sometimes end a show on the porch at dusk, serenading others with such songs as "Carolina Moon". In spite of finishing in a respectable 15th place for season three, Mayberry R.F.D. was canceled in 1971 in what was called "the rural purge", where shows set in a bucolic locale (The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction) were replaced with the more "hip" fare of Norman Lear (All In The Family) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
After Mayberry R.F.D., Berry went on to star in several made for TV movies, and his own summer replacement variety show on ABC called The Ken Berry 'Wow' Show in 1972, which ran for five episodes. This show was an opportunity for future stars Steve Martin, Cheryl Ladd and Teri Garr.
In 1973 Sherwood Schwartz wrote a Brady Bunch spin-off called Kelly's Kids, which featured Berry as the adoptive father of three diverse boys (black, white, and Asian). The pilot failed to interest ABC.
Over the next two decades Berry constantly guest starred on many other shows throughout his career including The Bob Newhart Show, The Julie Andrews Hour, several of Mitzi Gaynor's specials, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The Donny & Marie Show, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, CHiPS, and The Golden Girls.
In 1983, Berry was cast as Vinton Harper in Mama's Family, a spin-off from The Carol Burnett Show. This was an opportunity to work with successful comic-actors including the versatile Vicki Lawrence, Dorothy Lyman, Rue McClanahan, Betty White, and Beverly Archer during the six seasons of the show. Mama's Family aired on NBC from 1983 to 1984 and in repeats until 1985. It was then picked up for first-run syndication from 1986 to 1990. The complete run totaled 130 episodes.
During and after Mama's Family, Berry toured the U.S. in various theatrical performances, including multiple performances of Sugar with co-stars such as Donald O'Connor, Mickey Rooney, Soupy Sales, and Bobby Morse, The Music Man with Susan Watson (Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi were in the chorus), I Do! I Do! with Loretta Swit, and Gene Kelly's A Salute to Broadway with Howard Keel and Mimi Hines. Kelly, Berry's idol, was to direct the production, but fell ill.
In his younger years, Berry signed with a modeling agency that put him in a variety of spots, including advertisements for tissues, cigarettes, cereal, and a car commercial.
Years later, after signing with a commercial agent, Berry was a spokesman in commercials for Kinney Shoes from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, singing and dancing to the "Great American Shoe Store" jingle.
Berry's first recording experience came with the Billy Barnes cast albums: one from the Broadway performance of The Billy Barnes Review and the second in Billy Barnes' L.A.
Berry married Jackie Joseph, a Billy Barnes castmate on May 29, 1960. They eventually adopted two children, John and Jennifer. They divorced in 1976.
Berry has "loved cars and anything with wheels" since he was a young child, particularly smaller cars, and maintains a 1966 Mini Moke. An avid motorcyclist, he would camp and ride the local Los Angeles mountain ranges to relax.
|1961-1966||Dr Kildare||Dr. Kapish|
|1964-1965||No Time for Sergeants||Joe Dalrymple|
|1965-1967||F Troop||Captain Parmenter|
|1968-1971||Mayberry RFD||Sam Jones|
|1968-1978||The Carol Burnett Show||Himself|
|1970||The Art Linkletter Show||Himself|
|1972||Ken Berry WOW Show||Himself|
|1983-1990||Mama's Family||Vinton Harper|
|1959||Playboy's Penthouse||Himself||With The Billy Barnes Review cast|
|1960||Harrigan and Son||Himself||As Curtis Decker|
|1960-1961||The Ann Sothern Show||Woody||10 episodes|
|1961||Hennesey||Ensign Mayberry||He played a character "Mayberry" seven years before he was cast in the lead in Mayberry, RFD|
|1961||The Asphalt Jungle||Doctor (uncredited)|
|1961||The Garry Moore Show||Himself|
|1962||The Bob Newhart Show||various|
|1962||Mrs. G. Goes to College||Oscar|
|1962-1963||Ensign O'Toole||Lt. Melton / Calucci|
|1963||Burke's Law||Clyde (fella at party)|
|1964||Calhoun: County Agent||Otis Sorenson|
|1964||The Dick Van Dyke Show||Tony Daniels (choreographer)|
|1964-1965||Twelve O'Clock High||Major Bragg / Captain|
|1965||The Hollywood Palace||Himself|
|1966||Carol & Company||Himself|
|1967||Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In||Himself|
|1967||The Danny Thomas Hour||Skip|
|1967||The Woody Woodbury Show||Himself|
|1967||You Don't Say||Himself||Game show|
|1968||The Andy Griffith Show||Sam Jones|
|1969||Allen Ludden's Gallery||Himself|
|1969||The Ed Sullivan Show||Himself|
|1969||The Leslie Uggams Show||Himself|
|1969||Wake Me When the War is Over||Lt. Roger Carrington||Made-for-TV movie|
|1969-1971||The Andy Williams Show||Himself||Guest performer|
|1971||The First Nine Months are the Hardest||First husband|
|1971||The Reluctant Heroes||Lt. Parnell Murphy|
|1971||This Is Your Life: Andy Griffith||Himself|
|1971-1973||Love American Style||Various roles|
|1972||Arthur Godfrey's Portable Electric Medicine Show||Himself|
|1972||Every Man Needs One||David Chase|
|1972||Once Upon a Mattress||Dauntless the Drab|
|1972||The Julie Andrews Hour||Himself|
|1973||Letters from Three Lovers||Jack|
|1973 & 1974||Miss Teenage America Pageant||Himself, Master of Ceremonies|
|1973||Mitzi - The First Time||Himself|
|1973||The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast of Wilt Chamberlain||Himself|
|1973||The Mouse Factory||Himself|
|1974||The Brady Bunch||Ken Kelly||Episode used as the pilot for Kelly's Kids (which went unsold)|
|1974||Stand Up and Cheer||Himself|
|1974||The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour||Himself|
|1975||Medical Center||Allan Ronston|
|1975||Mitzi and a Hundred Guys||Himself|
|1975||The Jim Stafford Show||Himself|
|1976||Ellery Queen||DJ Paul Parker / Buddy|
|1976||Mitzi - Roarin' in the Twenties||Himself|
|1976||Over and Out||Capt. Paddy Patterson|
|1977||The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams||Will Boker|
|1977||The Love Boat II||Dr. Jim Berkley|
|1977||Valentine's Second Chance||Jimmy Valentine|
|1978||CBS: On the Air||Himself|
|1979||Featherstone's Nest||Dr. Charlie Featherstone|
|1979||Little House on the Prairie||London|
|1979||The Love Boat||Robert Noble|
|1980||The Big Show||Himself|
|1983||Just Men!||Himself||Game show hosted by Betty White|
|1983||Texaco Star Theatre: Opening Night||Himself|
|1985||Gimme a Break!||Dave|
|1986||Small Wonder||Buddy O'Conner|
|1992||The Golden Girls||Thor Anderson|
|1992||Vicki! Mama's Family Reunion||Himself|
|1993||Intimate Portrait: Vicki Lawrence||Himself|
|1997||The New Adventures of Batman||Seymour Grey|
|1999||Maggie Winters||Sheriff Riley|
|2000||E! True Hollywood Story: Andy of Mayberry||Himself|
|2000||Inside TV Land: The Andy Griffith Show||Himself|
|2006||CMT: The Greatest Country Comedy Shows||Himself|
|2006||My First Time: Variety is the Spice of Life||Himself|
|1962||Two for the Seesaw||Larry||Dancing with Shirley MacLaine, uncredited|
|1964||The Lively Set||Hotel room service waiter||Uncredited|
|1969||Hello Down There||Mel Cheever||Film later re-released as Sub A Dub Dub|
|1974||Herbie Rides Again||Willoughby Whitfield|
|1976||Guardian of the Wilderness||Zachary More|
|1978||The Cat from Outer Space||Frank|
|1957||In League with Ivy||Himself|
|1958||Billy Barnes Review||Himself|
|1960||Billy Barnes' People||Himself|
|1961||Billy Barnes' Hollywood||Himself|
|1961||Little Mary Sunshine||Captain 'Big Jim' Warington|
|1961||The Billy Barnes Review||Himself|
|1963||Billy Barnes' LA||Himself|
|1964||The Best of Billy Barnes||Himself|
|1974||The Music Man||Prof. Harold Hill|
|1975||Gene Kelly's Salute to Broadway||Himself|
|1984||Run for Your Wife||John Smith|
|1993||From the Top||Various characters||With Carol Burnett|
|Multiple years||George M!||George M. Cohen|
|Multiple years||I Do! I Do!||Michael Snow|
- Berry, Ken (March 7, 2012). Interview with Stephen Abramson. Archive of American Television. North Hollywood, California. Missing or empty
- Craft, Dan. "Ken Berry - Still Making 'em Laugh", August 13, 1993
- Zolotow, Sam (July 22, 1959). "Revue Will Move to Golden Theatre". The New York Times, p. 2.
- Ken Berry at the Internet Movie Database
- Ken Berry at the Internet Broadway Database
- Ken Berry at AllMovie
- Ken Berry interview video at the Archive of American Television
- Radio Video Active interview, scroll down to Ken's Interview, date unknown